Closing out last season on the highest note of their career was the goal Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch had strived for all year.

A sixth-place result at the 2017 World Championships — one spot higher than the season before — came on the heels of four international podium finishes: silver at Nebelhorn Trophy and bronze at Skate Canada, Cup of China and Four Continents.

Though their focus is on the performances and not results, landing in the top three at those international events boosted their confidence and momentum as the season proressed. “Each podium finish definitely helped, but we were more focused on how we improved each time out,” Moscovitch said. “I think that especially in the second half of the season we really started peaking. Our results reflected not just the big tricks, but our packaging and qualities and how much work we had put into the details of the programs.”

Ilyushechkina agreed, adding that “going into every competition we try to show our best, to show our maximum, and at the end of the season we were ready to show our best.”

The duo’s placement in Helsinki — combined with the seventh-place finish of their teammates Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford — guaranteed Canada three pairs berths at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. “There was definitely an awareness heading into Worlds that we needed to earn those three spots, but we also knew going in that we had three strong teams,” Moscovitch said.

“We just hit that 13 total between us and Eric and Meagan. We definitely had confidence in the Canadian team and we got the job done, so next year three teams have a shot at going to the Olympics.”

Last season was a marked improvement on the previous one, in which the duo failed to medal at any international event they contested. Moscovitch attributed the success to their ongoing improvement and expanded experience. “You know, it is an upward climb and last year just happened to be another year of work and development that helped us get there,” he said. “It takes time to develop and iron out some of the kinks. We are happy with the results, but there were a lot of things we would have liked to have done better.”

Pairs was one of the most-talked about disciplines last season with the upswing in choreography, and Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch are very aware that — technically and artistically — it took a quantum leap forward. They want to be part of that conversation this season. “All the events are getting stronger. Everyone around the world is pushing the envelope, and everyone is getting better. Not just at the top, but all the way down,” said Moscovitch, 32.

“In pairs it is a very strong field right now, which is pretty incredible. If we had done the season before what we did this year, we might have been a couple of places higher. Even just making it to the long program was a lot harder than it was last year.

“If you look at the technical difficulty that is happening now, there are more quad twists and throws and more variety of side-by-side jumps that are being done. Not only that, everyone is starting to pick up their second mark as well. I can see a huge development in the discipline worldwide.”

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch were hard at work over the summer preparing for the most important season of their career. They kept the same team of choreographers as last season: Marie-France Dubreuil and David Wilson crafted the short program, while Wilson and Sandra Bezic designed the free.

The short program is set to Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight,” and the long to “At This Moment,” a bluesy rock ballad by Billy Vera & the Beaters. Both programs have vocals.

“Every year we try to do something different — a new style and a new direction and we try to do something we have never done before. This year is not an exception,” said Ilyushechkina, 25.

They want to play to their strengths, but keep it fresh Moscovitch said. “This year’s programs are another step up for us, which is exciting. We got a lot of great feedback about the programs last year and we really liked them and this year’s programs have even more potential. Space has been left in the long program to add new elements such as a quad twist and a quad throw. Nothing is set in stone, but we have given ourselves openings for them. We are planning to add at least one quad throw and/or twist.”

Ilyushechkina said while there is a little bit of added pressure as they prepare for the new season, she considers it a positive thing.

Coach Lee Barkell is keeping them grounded as they head into the new season and “is reminding us that we have to be calm and keep working hard,” she said.

“It is silly to try and pretend that it is the same as any other year,” Moscovitch added. “But at the same time, keeping perspective and staying focused on the task at hand and the smaller day-to-day milestones keep us on track. We have a lot of experienced people around us so we are in good hands.”

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch opened the season at Thornhill Summer Skate in mid-August and placed fourth at their second event, Finlandia Trophy.

The lineups at their two Grand Prix assignments — Canada and France — boast top-heavy pairs fields. Duhamel and Radford and the reigning World silver medalists from Germany, Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, are also slated to compete at Skate Canada.

“All the events are strong and we just happened to land on two of the stronger events,” Moscovitch said. “But I think we showed at Worlds that we belong up there and if we keep moving forward with our eyes on the prize, so to speak, stay focused on ourselves and go out and do our job, we should be fine.”

Both know they will be in a battle for a podium finish at the Canadian Championships next January with a number of teams all vying to earn one of the three coveted berths to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Moscovitch said “it is a strong field for Canada, which is what you want. Everyone will be pushing hard to land on that podium and I think that whoever gets there will be better off heading into the Games because of that.

“We would definitely not only like to be on that team but at the top of end of it, and are hoping that we can take part in the Team Event as well.”

For Ilyushechkina, who obtained Canadian citizenship in late September, it will be her first Olympic adventure. “Dylan talks about it a lot — how excited he was going to Sochi (in 2014) and gives me advice about how to keep myself from not being overwhelmed about the prospect of going there,” she said. 

“We are going to have a pretty decent sized team going to the Games from the Toronto Cricket Club,” Moscovitch added. “It will be a very multi-cultural one with a lot of experience, which I think will be very helpful and useful to us heading into this season. It is going to be an interesting year.”

(Originally published in the September/October 2017 issue of IFS)